Holiday sales growth only 3%, down from predictions

Total retail sales in December, including autos, gas and restaurants, rose 3.2% year-over-year unadjusted while they dipped 0.4% seasonally adjusted from November, according to the US Commerce Department.

According to the National Retail Federation, retail industry sales for December, which exclude automobiles, gas stations and restaurants, rose only 1.7% unadjusted over last year and decreased 0.4% seasonally adjusted from November. As a result, 2007 holiday sales, which combine November and December sales, rose 3% to $469.9 billion, weaker than NRF’s projected 4% holiday forecast. This represents the lowest holiday season growth since 2002, when sales rose 1.3%.

“Consumers weren’t spending as robustly as anyone thought, including us,” said Scott Krugman, VP of public relations at the NRF. “The weak job market is a lagging indicator.”

Apparel, home furnishings and department stores took the biggest hits. In addition, November retail industry sales were revised downward to 4.7% growth from the initial 5.1% that was reported last month.

Despite the decline, health and personal care stores where unadjusted sales grew 3.7% year-over-year and 0.7% seasonally adjusted from November.

General merchandise stores also saw sales increase 2.1% year-over-year and 0.3% from the previous month.

“I think that retailers did a tremendous job at marketing and giving consumers what they wanted,” Krugman added. “Consumers were buying for holiday, but they may have been holding back on other spending due to the weak economy.”

NRF is forecasting that retail industry sales will increase 3.5% in 2008.

“The retail industry is resilient and we expect it to bounce back even in these hard times,” Krugman added.

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